Fair Use and Faulkner

The rightsholder for the works of William Faulkner sued — twice — over infringements of their copyrights.Although the suits were originally poo-poohed, the question asked by the two suits — what are the limits of fair use — is a question that has long plagued copyright holders and infringers alike. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll get a new signpost on the road map to determine what does and does not constitute fair use of a copyrighted work.

The copyrights for the works of William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 and died in July, 1962, are handled by Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC, which filed suits against Sony Pictures Classics, Inc. and Northrop Grumman, Inc., a defense contractor, in two different Mississippi federal district courts in October 2012. In both cases, the rightsholder contends that the defendants should have asked them for a license to use Faulkner’s material. Both defendants respond that the cases are frivolous and their use is covered by the fair use doctrine. Sony may have a leg to stand on there, but Northrop Grumman is a defense contractor who ran an ad using Faulkner’s materials in a way that the rightsholder would not have consented to. Is that fair use, too? We shall see….